Sunday, February 8, 2009 11:00 AM
On the Viewer - Star Trek: The Animated Series, Disc Four
 by Fëanor

A while back we finally got around to watching the final disc of ST:TAS, so we've now seen every episode. The quality definitely went downhill as the series went on, but there were some really neat ideas throughout, and some really quality episodes that could stand up next to any episode of any live-action Star Trek series.

This episode was written by David Gerrold, who also wrote for the original series. In fact, this was a script left over from his time on the live-action show, now resurrected as an entry in the animated series. As it opens, an alien observer named Ari Bn Bem is on board the Enterprise, supposedly keeping an eye on what the crew is doing, but mostly just lounging around criticizing everybody. When an away team heads down to a newly discovered planet to check it out, he insists on coming along. He immediately starts out on the wrong foot by programming the transporter incorrectly and beaming Spock and Kirk into a spot in the air right above a shallow lake. They fall down with a splash, and he heads after them, apparently to help them, but actually in order to secretly swap out their phasers and communicators with fake, non-working replicas. Sabotage! Later, when they run into some of the planet's inhabitants - a primitive lizard people - Bem runs off and further endangers the mission by getting himself captured. Kirk and Spock try to save him, but end up getting captured as well. It turns out Bem was just trying to test them, to see if they could overcome a difficult situation without their weapons and communicators. He feels they failed the test, and wanders off, leaving them still trapped in prison. Meanwhile, it turns out a powerful alien entity (voiced by Nichelle Nichols) is overseeing the lizard people, and doesn't like that the crew of the Enterprise is interfering with her "children." After some more wacky misadventures, they finally make peace with the alien entity, who nevertheless asks that no Federation ships return to her planet, so her children can develop without outside influence. Kirk agrees. Meanwhile, Bem feels he's really screwed things up and prepares to commit suicide! Turns out he's a sort of collective organism - many living parts all fitted together to form a whole - and he feels his collective has failed and should break apart and never reform. Kirk and the alien entity manage to talk him out of it, and everybody learns a valuable lesson.

This is a slightly annoying, repetitive, and cheesy episode. Bem just keeps screwing things up and they keep getting captured by the lizard people. And the alien entity is not exactly a fun character, either; she's always making corny speeches of one kind or another. Still, there are some amusing moments. It was pretty funny seeing Kirk and Spock get beamed into the air and fall into the water, and it was also funny seeing Kirk get increasingly frustrated with Bem's antics.

"The Practical Joker"
But if you really want silly comedy, then this is the episode for you! The Enterprise is attacked by three Romulan warbirds, so Kirk orders the ship to escape into a nearby gaseous energy field, despite the fact that he has no idea what it will do to the ship. In fact, in a very unlikely turn of events, the energy field turns the computer into a practical joker. When the senior staff sits down for a leisurely meal, they're amused but upset to discover that all their glasses leak. The jokes just get worse from there; silverware turns to rubber, replicators spit out tons of unwanted food, decks suddenly become covered with ice. At first the crew thinks it's all pretty funny, but eventually the gags begin to get on everyone's nerves, and they all start accusing each other. Luckily, Kirk finally puts two and two together and realizes it's the computer that's playing tricks on them. Before he's able to get the word out, however, McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu decide to take a vacation from all the practical jokes in the Rec Room, which turns out to be an early version of the Holodeck! I was very surprised and excited to see the concept of the Holodeck get introduced in the animated series. I was also very amused when, in the very first episode featuring the Holodeck, the darn thing malfunctions. Was there ever an episode of Star Trek that featured the Holodeck in which it did not malfunction in some way? Maybe it's time for a redesign, or at least a patch.

Anyway, in this case the malfunctioning takes the form of more practical jokes cooked up by the computer. But this time the jokes get pretty dangerous, as Sulu, McCoy, and Uhura suddenly find themselves transported from a sunny forest to a snowy wasteland where they slowly begin freezing to death. Meanwhile, the computer has turned the ship around and pointed it right back at the Romulans! It does not look good for our heroes. Luckily, Kirk figures out how to fix things. He hilariously pretends to be deathly afraid of going back into the gaseous energy field that caused all this. The computer buys it, hook, line, and sinker, and promptly flies them right back into the energy field. But another passage through the field somehow reverses the original effects and turns the computer back to normal. Unfortunately for the Romulans, they decide to follow the Enterprise into the cloud this time, and end up with their own practical joker to deal with. Laughs all around!

Even though it's quite corny, and the plot is pretty hard to believe, this episode is still fun and amusing, and like I said, it was awesome to see the birth of the holodeck.

The Enterprise arrives at a planet called Dramia to deliver some medical supplies, but as they're getting ready to leave, the authorities arrest Dr. McCoy for mass murder! They claim that about 20 years ago, McCoy visited the neighboring planet of Dramia II and inoculated the inhabitants, but after he left they were struck by a plague and almost all of them died. McCoy isn't sure what to believe, but Kirk is certain he's innocent and takes the ship to Dramia II to see if he can find some witnesses or evidence to prove it. They do find someone willing to speak on McCoy's behalf, but on the way back the entire crew becomes infected by the plague! Spock, as per usual, is not as deeply affected by the sickness as everyone else, so he takes command. Things get so bad he has to invoke General Order #6, which means the ship is set to automatically self-destruct if everyone on board dies, so no other beings can be infected by the plague. That's a good rule to have! Spock also breaks McCoy out of prison so the doctor can try to come up with a cure before all of them die. Working together, Spock and McCoy finally figure out the riddle of the disease, and discover that the plague was not caused by McCoy after all (natch). Everyone is saved, and the people of Dramia end up praising McCoy instead of punishing him.

This one has some interesting ideas, and some surprisingly dark moments, especially when Spock and Kirk beam down to the deserted, ruined surface of the plague-ridden Dramia II. It might have been more interesting if it had turned out that McCoy really was responsible for a terrible plague, but I like the guy too much to want to wish that on him.

"How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth"
This is a very strange episode, and one of various episodes of various Star Trek series to try to explain the origin of the human race, as well as the origin of religion and mythology. We've never seen a Native American crewman on the Enterprise before, but there's one at the helm in this episode, for the simple reason that he has to be there so he can recognize the alien ship that attacks them as looking quite a bit like Kukulkan, an ancient Mayan god. It turns out the ship's inhabitant is Kukulkan, an incredibly powerful alien creature that adopted humanity as its children many ages ago and is now angry that they never answered its call until now. Kukulkan feels humanity has failed him and become a violent and stupid race, so he plans to destroy them all. Eventually Kirk and the others are able to convince him otherwise, after acting bravely in a crisis, and explaining to him that eventually a parent must let his children go their own way.

It's all rather silly. Kukulkan and his story of having raised the human race is a bit ridiculous. He acts almost like an angry mother. "You never call, you never write!" And the way Kirk is able to talk him down in the end is also rather silly. Still, the episode has its moments, and it was cool to see a Native American on the bridge for the first time. It's one of a number of firsts that I thought came later in Star Trek's history, but that I must now attribute to the animated series.

"The Counter-Clock Incident"
The final episode of the animated series is sadly also arguably the most ridiculous, unbelievable, and poorly written. As it opens, Commodore Robert April and his wife Sarah are on board the Enterprise and being transported to Babel. April, it's revealed, was the first captain of the Enterprise. This was news to me; I'd assumed Captain Pike was first, or maybe Jonathan Archer (assuming Enterprise is canon). Anyway, before heading to Babel, they stop to observe a supernova, and are horrified when an alien ship blasts by them, headed straight for it. They try to stop the ship, but only end up getting sucked in as well. Luckily for everyone involved, the supernova doesn't destroy them, but merely transports them into the home universe of the alien vessel - a negative universe where time runs backwards. The woman on the alien ship agrees to help them get back, but things become complicated when the crew realizes they're now aging backward at an incredible rate of speed, and losing their memory in the process, which means they'll soon be too young and ignorant to work the controls of the ship! Luckily Commodore April was old and experienced enough when this all started that he's able to take command and guide the Enterprise safely back home. After they get back, everyone is returned to their former, older versions by a quick trip through the transporter.

There are a lot of things in this episode that just don't make any sense. I'm willing to buy the idea of a negative universe that can be accessed by a supernova, and I'm willing to buy that time could run backwards there and that you'd get younger instead of older, because that's a neat idea. But I don't understand why the crew of the Enterprise gets younger so incredibly quickly. Wouldn't they age backwards at the same rate they'd age forwards in our universe? And why do they start to lose their memory, but only certain parts of their memory? If they're going to start forgetting how to use the ship's controls, why don't they forget how they got there at all, or what they're even doing? It just doesn't make any sense. And I really don't like the whole deus ex machina thing with the transporter. They've used that before in this series, and in The Next Generation, and it just doesn't sit well with me. If you can turn back to an earlier version of yourself just by getting beamed in the transporter, why does anyone ever die in the Star Trek universe? If your arm gets chopped off, just beam back the version of yourself with an arm! If you get shot in the heart, just beam back before you were shot!

Like I said, I like the basic idea of the negative universe, and it was pretty funny seeing the crew age back to their younger selves (something that would happen again in Next Generation; and the crew had already aged rapidly in the other direction in an episode of the original series). It was also neat that Robert April got to be young again, and command the Enterprise again. But so much of this episode was so nonsensical and hard to believe that it was pretty difficult to enjoy it.
Tagged (?): Cartoons (Not), On the Viewer (Not), ST:TAS (Not), Star Trek (Not), TV (Not)

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